The Painkiller

Theatre, West End
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(9user reviews)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Marcus Fraser (Policeman)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonAlex Macqueen (Dent), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonAlex Macqueen (Dent), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonClaudie Blakley (Michelle), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Rob Brydon (Dudley)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Rob Brydon (Dudley), Mark Hadfield (Porter)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonKenneth Branagh (Ralph), Rob Brydon (Dudley), Mark Hadfield (Porter)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonRob Brydon (Dudley), Kenneth Branagh (Ralph), Alex Macqueen (Dent), Claudie Blakley (Michelle)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonRob Brydon (Dudley), Kenneth Branagh (Ralph), Claudie Blakley (Michelle)

Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon reprise their roles in this old-fashioned but fun

Just when I think I understand you decadent Westerners, the theatre gods send me to another farce, to remind me that I definitely don’t. But even my sullen Eastern European brain can’t help but acknowledge a little serotonin surge at the awesome spectacle of Sir Kenneth Branagh dropping his trousers again, and again (and again) in this most retro of comedies. 

‘The Painkiller’ – director Sean Foley’s adaptation of a play by Francis Veber – features mistaken identities galore, lashings of camp innuendo, plenty of dodgy ‘foreign’ accents, lots and lots of door-slamming, a cartload of mouldy old puns and endless scenes of Branagh and co-star Rob Brydon trying to shuffle across rooms with their trews round their ankles. Each of which made me want to bellow ‘PULL THEM UP THEN TRY AND WALK!’

Revived for Branagh’s year-long run of shows at the Garrick (it premiered in Belfast in 2011), it concerns an elaborate series of mishaps that pile up after Branagh’s assured but unimaginative hitman Ralph takes a hotel room adjoining that of suicidal small-time photographer Dudley (Brydon). Pitched somewhere between a ‘Carry On’ film and ‘Fawlty Towers’, it’s funnier than the former and generally less funny than the latter. It’s also worth noting that while it’s a homage to the sort of ribald comedies that dominated the West End for much of the twentieth century, there are none of the most egregious offences – overt racism or sexism – in place.

Instead, you essentially get the spectacle of two veteran actors having the time of their lives making tits out of themselves – and I’ll mostly take that quite happily.

Ralph’s room overlooks a courthouse, where he is to take out a high-profile defendant. Separated only by a locked interconnecting door (eventually opened by Mark Hadfield’s camp porter) is the room where despairing Dudley has decided it’s time to end it all, following the collapse of his marriage. But his bungling attempts to top himself threaten to attract the police, so Ralph concludes he’ll have to do something about this noisy irritant. 

Skip forward about half an hour, and Ralph is off his face on an accidentally ingested cocktail of prescription drugs, which means he is now falling into things and adopting various accents (of varying political correctness) – all to the general delight of puppyish Dudley who believes he is having fun with a new best friend. 

You shouldn’t come here looking for cutting-edge humour, but Branagh and Brydon have a lovely chemistry playing, in essence, two men going through their respective midlife crises. And it’s certainly the most vigorous comedy I’ve seen since ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’. Branagh, in particular, is firing on all cylinders as he flails about the room, at one point appearing to move about on an invisible bicycle, later beating up a police officer while still whacked off his gourd. 

Even if you don’t consider the pratfall to be the high watermark of human achievement, you’ll find the sheer chutzpah here pretty irresistible.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Average User Rating

3.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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A belter of a show- The Painkiller is farce done at its best and will see you smiling through its entire one act.

Branagh and Brydon shine in this old fashioned yet good fun production, with impeccable timing and outstanding delivery. Two men from very different walks of life happen to become intertwined within each other's lives after sharing adjoining door in a hotel. Branagh gives a masterclass in physical comedy after a accidental drugging turns him to a walking jellyfish, and Brydon's character's transition from manic depressive to confident criminal is a delight to witness.

The set is simply realistic, yet cleverly designed to enhance the play's laughs and the supporting characters all have golden moments, resulting in a slick witty, fast- paced play that is the perfect tonic after a long, hard week. Only reason it's not full stars from is that the restricted view tickets do prove quite an issue in the sense you can only see half of the stage; with so much of the comedy being visual, you do feel as if you miss out on some gags, but there are enough to laugh at that you don't feel too hard done by. Get a ticket while you can!

Marshmallows and Piggy Banks will never be the same! The best laugh I've had in a long time. Brydon at his best and Branagh as I have never seen him before. Good support from all the players.


This is physical comedy and farce. These are not usually my favourite types of theatre.

On this occasion is it so well done that I have finally realised why it was so successful in the last century - once you begin to laugh, you are carried along on a wave of slapstick and ridiculousness that is quite exhilarating. The whole cast were brilliant, Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh looked to be enjoying themselves enormously which added to the entertainment. The whole audience laughed out loud and I recommend this show even to those who do not normally like dropped trousers and double entendres.

Now, who can help me get tickets to the final performance of this show because I think it will be even more amazing!


This high tempo production, that has its roots in 60s French farce, pits Kenneth Brannagh against Rob Brydon as hotel guests whose fates clash together. Sir Ken plays a suave assassin whilst Brydon is in familiar territory as the hapless local newspaper photographer. Much hilarity ensues as the production does not shy away from exploring verbal or visual gags in its frenetic ninety-minute duration. Though the gentlemen in compromising positions trope may be tired in 2016, the two principal leads and fellow cast members are such fine exponents of comic timing that the clichéd gags can be forgiven. Be warned about seats advertised with ‘slightly restricted view’. We were sat in the Grand Circle (C1 and C2) to be precise and could only see half the stage. This was particularly galling for a play that presented many moments of visual slapstick.

The first half hour of this was a little uncomfortable, with the well-heeled over 65s laughing loudly at really obvious and unsurprising gafs. I did find myself wishing there was an interval so I could go home (I've only ever done that once before). But, all was not lost. Something made me giggle unexpectedly about 40 minutes in and then it snow-balled and I couldn't stop laughing. Sadly the funny things were really all to do with Kenneth Branagh being totally awesome at his character losing it, and not a lot to do with Rob Brydon - a real shame as I love Rob! Over all - it was a fun evening and I'm glad there was no interval :)  

For people, like me, who do not find slap stick humour funny, sit tight during the first 10 minutes of this play. I promise you will be rewarded with one of the funniest plays you will ever see. Ever the cynic, I did not think I'd find this funny but little did I know I'd be crying with laughter before long! The actors are just brilliant, the story hilarious and the scenery works perfectly. Not to be missed!

Staff Writer

Well I bloody loved it! I laughed out loud quite a bit (which I think annoyed the lady sitting next to me who seemed to not get any of the jokes...odd). Both leads were brilliant, each in their own way of course, Rob Brydon the hopeless love fall wanting to end it all and Kenneth Branagh the last job hit man who finds himself in a crazy situation that he really couldn't escape. A friendship of sorts is formed. Hilarious! 

I really like the premise and the actors involved, but overall the brand of humour just wasn't for me. There are only so many times a door hitting someone in the face can make you chuckle (if at all), and while there were glimmers of genuine hilarity in the script (mostly when Branagh's character loses it and he nails his delivery) it just wasn't consistent enough or clever enough to really work. If it was on TV the laugh track would reverberate in silent living rooms nationwide.


In a moment of foresight in April 2015, I booked tickets to all of the opening nights of Kenneth Branagh's season at the Garrick Theatre. It was painful for the credit card at the time, but the investment has paid off in these cold winter months, when having some theatre to look forward to really brightens the week. The Painkiller is a French farce (in translation) that had its debut in Belfast with both Rob Brydon and Branagh about 5 years ago. The plot concerns adjoining hotel rooms. One contains an assassin, primed for a job. The other, a depressed, suicidal Welshman. Hilarity ensues when the adjoining door comes into play and their lives become entangled, with horse-tranquillisers, ex-wives and unfortunate policemen joining the fracas. For an opening night, all seemed smooth - with the exception of one small line fluff. The leads embody their roles perfectly. Branagh's performance recalls earlier roles as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and you realise just how adept he is at physical comedy. The plot moves at a cracking pace and there's no room for boredom. Brydon is hilarious onstage, hamming up his Welsh-ness to the top notch (there are a few well-placed Swansea jokes). The view was surprisingly good from our cheap seats, and we caught probably 90% of the action. It's testament to the script and the skill of the cast that we were still laughing throughout. In all, I'd heartily recommend.